Brexit-vote against the global city

On 25 juni 2016, in migratie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Independent of 24 June 2016:


The Dutch presidency of the EU in the first half of 2016 ends with a Brexit. Well done. In Amsterdam, where all the EU-meetings were held, we can put away the flags. The party is over. The young and fragile Urban Agenda of the EU will be an agenda without London, by far the biggest city of the EU. So goodbye Urban Agenda. This Brexit doen’s mean the proud nation of the UK will be restored. Nation-states are outlived and will not come back, unless they start a new world war. No, it means the UK is becoming a city-state in a globalizing world, with a cosmopolitan London, still in favour of the EU, being forced by its shrinking and ageing hinterland to step back. The same holds for Manchester, Leeds, and Belfast, where a majority has also voted against Brexit. Brexit is a vote of the shrinking hinterland against the Global City. What will London do? Think of its urban economy, which is already fully globalized. Its former mayor, Mr. Boris Johnson, has a chance to become the prime-minister of the new London city-state. How ironic. He will weave his urban ‘nation’ in the new networks of global cities, starting with New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Shanghai, all cities with economies as big as the UK. It is a scenario. Or a way of seeing things.

The other option is Mr. Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London, will come up with the proposal to leave the UK. Why not? London will certainly not become the new capital city of a former powerful country, it is a global city already for quite a long time, a very powerful city indeed, which in many ways is disconnected from its surroundings. There are more than a million Europeans living in London. Besides, there are quite a few millions of immigrants living in London from all over the world. Mr. Khan is one of them, his family is from Pakistan. The Brexit vote was a vote against immigrants in the first place, against the global city. So how did the new mayor respond to the Brexit vote? “There is no need to panic.” And: “I want to send a particular message to the almost one million Europeans living in London, who make a huge contribution to our city – working hard, paying taxes and contributing to our civic and cultural life. You are welcome here. We value the enormous contribution you make to our city and that will not change as a result of this referendum." Will they stay? It starts with London protesting.  Mind ‘London Stays’.

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The prestige of a system

On 25 februari 2016, in water, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Capital. The Eruption of Delhi’ (2015) of Rana Dasgupta:

What is happening in Haryana, India, at this very moment, is quite alarming. You should read the last chapter of Dasgupta’s great book on Delhi. I’ll explain. The farmers in this Indian state are revolting, the riots of the Jat community are political and very dangerous indeed. Cause: extreme drought, thirst, hunger, like in Syria, where the farmers also were forced to leave the countryside and moved to Dasmascus and Aleppo. And you know what came out of that! So their actions are against the capital city, Delhi, their mighty neighbour. And maybe you know that Delhi is growing very fast. It has more than 20 million inhabitants and soon it will be the biggest city in the world. Due to the protests, at least 10 million people in Delhi suffer because the farmers in Haryana are sabotaging the canal that transports the water to the metropolis.  They want jobs and opportunities for studying at public universities, in short, they claim their rights. They are desperate. In the end they might migrate to the megacity. Dasgupta gives valuable background information.

Dasgupta writes about Anumpam Mishra who is one of the citizens of Delhi who transcends the general self-involvement and sees the planetary extension in the adjacent and particular. His walk with him through the city leads both men to the river. Anumpam tells him how the continuous and sophisticated water system of Delhi, built on a rich underground supply, evolved through the ages and how everything changed when the British came. The old philosophy was: if you take, you must put back. They stored the water and every monsoon they gave back. But the colonial power broke this 1.000 years of water knowledge. The British were only interested in the river. They even started damming the Yamuna river and ran pipelines into the city. They made people dependent on the system they introduced. Worse even, Delhi people no longer had to think about their water. Anumpam: “It is the prestige of a system that directs you to conserve it and honour it; if that prestige disappears people cease to care.” Of the seventeen rivers and 800 water bodies, hardly any are left. According to Anumpam it is a complete disaster. Add to that the boycott of the Haryani farmers and you understand the seriousness of what is happening. Delhi should revitalize its old system and prepare itself for new waves of poor migrants.

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International solidarity

On 14 oktober 2015, in demografie, geschiedenis, by Zef Hemel

Read in Historisch Nieuwsblad nr.9 2007:

On an excursion last week, my students visited the Spaarndammerbuurt, Amsterdam. There, in museum Het Schip, they listened to the story of the Great War. The neighborhood, our young guide explained, was built in 1914-1920. In 1914 one million Belgian refugees had fled to the Netherlands in only a few days time. The Great War had started, with the Germans occupying Belgium. The city of Antwerp was evacuated. What did the Dutch government do? Not much. Mr. Cort van der Linden, the Dutch conservative prime minister, kept quiet for more than six weeks. It was Queen Wilhelmina who asked the population to help their neighbours and welcome them with open arms. In Amsterdam, a national committee – the ‘Amsterdam Committee’ – was installed by citizens. At last the government decided to build concentration camps all over the country, but mostly in the southern provinces. The refugees, it decided, should be imprisoned and leave the country as soon as possible. From then on, the Belgians had to live behind barbed wire, waiting for the moment to be sent back. To make things worse, the Dutch government started negotiations with the Germans in the hope to get rid of the Belgians as soon as possible. The Germans decided to build a fence of electric wire on the northern border of Belgium to stop the Dutch implementing their evictions.

The guide – a master student Social History at the University of Amsterdam – was telling his story with passion. The architects of the Amsterdam School, he told my students, were ordered by socialist deputy mayor Mr. Floor Wibaut personally to keep on building, thus creating new dwellings for the Belgian comrades. The magic architecture of Michel de Klerk was a political statement: socialist Amsterdam voting against conservative The Hague. The beautiful tower in the building of ‘Het schip’ – now a museum – is a symbol of international solidarity. Afterwards I asked the young guide why he told us all this. He said, “Well, because the same is happening in our country right now.” Mr. Rutte doing nothing. Even the king is holding his tongue. The refugees from Syria, Iraq and northern Africa have to stay in asylumseekers camps on the countryside. We should build dwellings in Amsterdam for them now. With beautiful architecture. And towers! We need Wibaut again!

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